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At UN, Libya vs Switzerland for More Votes for Human Rights Council, 11th Hour News

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 13, updated -- Today's Human Rights Council election at the UN is considered so newsless, with 14 candidates for 14 seats, that even UN TV was not present in front of the General Assembly at 10 am.

But in discussions with Ambassadors, Inner City Press has learned of what passes for a controversy: which country will get more votes, Libya or Switzerland?

While Western human rights groups have urged that Libya not be voted for, the campaign against Switzerland is more sotto voce, or at least, not in English. Among the bases are Switzerland's minaret ban.

The Swiss Mission spokesman stood in front of the General Assembly. He told Inner City Press that African countries always get a lot of votes. This is called pre-spinning a result.

Gadafi in the UN General Assembly last year, Swiss not shown

The country's Ambassador, Peter Maurer, is already moonlighting as a Swiss minister, having visited Washington earlier this week in that capacity while still chairing the UN's budget committee, which is considering a restructuring of the UN Department of Field Support. We need more details on that, a major Troop Contributing Country's Ambassador told Inner City Press on Thursday morning.

Inner Press asked UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, Are you voting for Libya? He asked in return, Am I voting for the Lib-Dems?

Libya's UN Ambassador stopped but said, I'll speak afterwards. So will the US' Susan Rice, which some think explains the belated set up of a UN TV stakeout. Watch this site.

Update of 11:07 a.m. -- It's been confirmed to Inner City Press that the UN TV stake out was belatedly set up at the request of the US Mission. US Ambassador Susan Rice went in to the GA at 11:02. Ban Ki-moon, Vijay Nambiar et al. left the GA at 11:04, after the tribute to Nigeria's deceased president. Now reporters begin to arrive, having been told that Rice will speak. "What about?" one of them asks.

* * *

Angola and Libya Poised for Human Rights Council, Georgia - Russia Fight Next Year?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 12 -- There are only 14 candidates for the 14 seats on the Human Rights Council up for election on May 13. Despite opposition from some groups and requests by others, this almost certainly means that each of the 14 candidates, including Libya and Angola, will get elected to three year terms on the HRC, a body which last year converted a draft condemning the Sri Lankan government's murder of civilians into a final resolution praising the government.

  In Libya, political opponents are imprisoned and disappear. In Angola, poor people are summarily evicted to make way for projects, while oil revenue continues to disappear. There are only two examples.

  The one contested race that loomed for May 13 involved Iran running for a seat. The country withdrew, however, in exchange for a spot on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Click here for Inner City Press' Q&A with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about how Iran would use that seat. US Ambassador Susan Rice, being criticized for not opposing this Iran seat, may speak on the topic after Thursday's vote.

  In the run up to the election, Inner City Press asked the representatives of two NGOs calling for the casting of empty ballots what they thought of the place of human rights in the UN since Ban Ki-moon took over in 2007. "Kofi Annan was good on these issues," replied Tom Melia of Freedom House. "That's my answer."

UN's Ban and Gadafi, human rights off camera

  Hillel Neuer of UN Watch was more diplomatic, later providing Inner City Press with a detailed explanation of how the voting could go on May 13. He was responding to questions Inner City Press asked the spokesman for the President of the General Assembly, Ali Treki of Libya:

Inner City Press: Sure, Jean Victor. There was a presentation here in the UN by two NGOs about the upcoming vote for the Human Rights Council, countries to be on it. Among other things, they were urging, you know, I guess Member States, to vote against Libya and some certain other candidates for it. But it was unclear since the regional, and I couldn’t really get a straight answer from them how this would work, if the regional groups put forward only you know, two names for two African slots. If in fact a country like Libya were not to receive the 97 affirmative votes, what would be the procedure to actually, to fill that slot? I mean, what is, is being named by a regional group an automatic that you get the seat or is there some, do they have some basis to say that by choosing not to vote, this would somehow reopen it and another country could be elected?

Spokesperson Jean Victor Nkolo: I think we have to allow the General Assembly proceedings to be implemented in the full transparency that the Member States usually apply on these processes. Nothing is sealed, nothing is automatic. That’s why you have a vote. And there are…

Inner City Press: The vote is for two spots, with only two candidates. What happens if people choose not, just choose, as these two NGOs were urging, not to vote for one of the two. Then…?

Spokesperson: There are many votes in the General Assembly and in other organs, and in other proceedings of the UN when you have a limited number of candidates or in some other instances, many candidates. So, we should really not make a pronouncement on this very specific case. I will not comment on the particular of a specific country.

Inner City Press: [inaudible] I’m asking about the procedure, because they seem to be urging people to simply not, you know, not vote, and that this would somehow, you know, this could have an effect, is what they were saying. They were also saying that if people write in another country, that under the GA rules that is not supposed to be recorded as a vote for another, for somebody that is actually not on the ballot. But they say that it is.

Spokesperson: What I will be very happy to do is to put you in touch with our colleagues in the General Assembly Affairs who deal with these very complex, intricate proceedings. But, I believe that Member States should be given not only the chance, but also should be accepted as partners in these proceedings and they implement it quite fairly and transparently. If you do not have many candidates or if proceedings lead to the conclusion that you take these are your own conclusions. But…

Inner City Press: What I am asking, just to be clear, I am asking, this was done, this was inside the UN, it was Freedom House and UN Watch, they had a list, they have a report out; may be you can ask the President Ali Treki if has any response to this type of lobbying by NGOs. I just wanted to, you know, it’s a procedural…

Spokesperson: Well, this is lobbying by NGOs. This has nothing to do with Member States, per se. But, I will still ask the questions, and we will try to find out on the proceedings side. But these are proceedings that are set and that have to be implemented for the time being. I really see no procedural problem that might have been infringed, per se.

Neuer of UN Watch clarified:

Hi Matt, I saw your question to Jean Victor....  First, please note that officially the regional groups are not the ones who decide nominees, as you had indicated. Each country officially can decide on its own. In practice, however, we all know it doesn’t work that way, and that they tend to negotiate among themselves in the regional groups.

Here is how the process works, as diplomats told us, based on UNGA Rule of Procedure 94. A candidate may announce up itself to the actual first round of voting, but we have never seen anyone wait that long to announce. So regarding Libya on the African list — assuming it remains what we call a “closed slate” of 4 names for 4 spots — if Libya doesn’t get 97 the first time, leaving an empty space on the African list, there are two more rounds held for that remaining place. Only Libya’s name would appear on the ballot.

If there is still no conclusive outcome after these 3 rounds of the 1st ballot, the 2d set of three rounds begins and any name may be written in, not only those on the first three rounds. This is called “unrestricted” balloting. (It rarely goes this far.) A “new” candidate does not take the microphone and say “we’re running”, rather the delegates mull about the room and murmur as to what country may be interested/available/desirous/amenable/etc. to being placed on the ballot (this could all be pre-cooked, of course.) This scenario plays out very, very infrequently. It goes back to “restricted” for three and “unrestricted” again for three until there is an outcome.

Neuer also answered 3 questions from Inner City Press:

Q - What do you think will happen on May 13?

Neuer of UN Watch -- Unless Ambassador Susan Rice and her EU colleagues do what UN Watch and 30 other NGOs asked them to do today — lead a campaign to stop Qaddafi — I fear that the “closed slate” politics will win the day and Libya will be elected, along with all the others whom we rated as non-qualified or questionable. Let there be no mistake: the election of Libya will be the most damaging thing the 4-year-old Council has done to date. It’s not just the brutality of the regime, but also the folly that its leader exemplifies. He continues to hold a Swiss businessman hostage in a Libyan jail; last week he gave an interview calling for the dismemberment of Switzerland, which he called “a mafia”; now he’s sending an envoy to the Swiss-based council?

Inner City Press: What do you think of HRW's strategy of seeking commitments from those who are going to run and win, as they put it?

Neuer of UN Watch – I think it’s well-intentioned, but question whether the ones who really need to be held accountable will provide the rope with which to hang them.

Inner City Press: What do you think of next year's battles on the horizon?

Neuer of UN Watch – The new membership will make the OIC even more powerful and lower the democratic minority even further.

  A seeming highlight for next year will be Georgia running for a seat, which Russia is expected to oppose. Inner City Press has asked the Russian Mission -- which said generally that Russia loves the Georgian people, just not the government -- watch this site.

* * *

On War Crimes Experts, UN Waits for "Sham"Sri Lankan Panel, Hiding Behind Rice

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 11 -- The UN's statement on May 10 that on naming a panel of experts on war crimes in Sri Lanka Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's wheels are turning -- or spinning -- was amplified to Inner City Press on Tuesday by a senior Ban official. "Now they've come out with theirs," the UN official said, referring to the Rajapaksa administration's announcement of a "mechanism."

  "It will be a sham," the UN official continues. Inner City Press asked, but how long will it take the UN to reach that conclusion? The UN official shrugged. "They have to appoint the members." He paused. "Susan Rice did a very good thing," he said, referring to US Ambassador Rice's May 10 statement on Sri Lanka.

  "She welcomed it but listed expectations which they will never meet," the UN official said.

  Inner City Press asked the official, as it has now asked the US State Department, what ever came of the committee the Rajapaksa administration named in November 2009. The official shrugged. "There is an EU statement coming," he said.

  Earlier on May 11, as US Ambassador Susan Rice entered the Security Council for a meeting on terrorism sanctions, Inner City Press began to ask for a question about the statement issued in her name the previous day - what does it mean for the U.S.' support of Ban Ki-moon intention announced on March 5 to name a panel of experts to advice him on accountability in Sri Lanka?

  Ambassador Rice indicated she was busy. Later a genial Mission staffer came to asked what the question was -- Inner City Press rephrased it -- and said he would go in and get an answer. But leaving the Council along with Ambassador Rice, he said he'd have to check with the "Sri Lanka people."

   Hours later in the UN's North Lawn building he again promised an answer. But still as of close of business and deadline, none was provided. Inner City Press sent this and other questions to an Assistant Secretary of State in Washington. Watch this site.

UN's Ban and Susan Rice, experts on war crimes not shown

From the UN's May 10 transcript:

Inner City Press: There is a report in Sri Lanka that the visit of Lynn Pascoe has been delayed by the Government; that the request was made that it be in mid-May. The Government said no. Now dates in June have been proposed, and this article.. seems to link Pascoe’s visit with the appointment of this Panel of Experts to advise the Secretary-General on accountability -- meaning they wouldn’t be named until his visit. And now the visit, according to this, has been put off to June. Does the UN disagree with this portrayal? What is the connection between his visit and the naming of the panel? And is the visit not, in fact, going to take place in May despite the wheels that you described being motion?

UN Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Well, thank you for prompting me; the wheels are still in motion on both the visit by Mr. Pascoe…

Inner City Press: Does the Government have the brakes on your wheels?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, that’s for you to ask the Government of Sri Lanka. What I can tell you is that the UN wheels are definitely turning, and they’re well-oiled. And what they’re turning towards is, one, a visit by Mr. Pascoe, and, two, for the Panel of Experts that we’ve discussed many times here.

Inner City Press: This article says that there are some connections between the two; that that the panel would not be named before the visit is made. I have been told by the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka that, given changes on the ground there, no panel is needed and he predicts that no panel will be named. So, is there any connection at all between Mr. Pascoe’s visit and the naming of the panel that’s now been delayed more than two months? Or not been delayed; it’s been two months since it was announced it would happen.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, I don’t think that we should draw a line between the two or to see this as cause and effect. The visit and the composition and naming of the panel -- these are two separate matters.

Footnote: another reason clarification of Ambassador Rice's statement, is sought is the re-emergence in State Department of Samantha "Problem from Hell" Power, who wrote the -- well, a -- book on the lack accountability for war crimes. What does she think of the statement?


May 10, 2010


Statement by US Ambassador Susan E. Rice on Sri Lanka's Announcement of a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation

The U.S. Government welcomes President Rajapaksa's announcement of his intention to establish a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation to examine key aspects of the recently ended conflict in Sri Lanka and his acknowledgment in doing so that accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law is a crucial pillar of national reconciliation and the rule of law. Experience in other countries has shown that commissions of inquiry can play a valuable role in advancing accountability when they are appropriately constituted and enjoy broad public support. Particularly important in this regard, broad experience has shown that to be effective in advancing accountability and reconciliation, commission members should be and be perceived as independent, impartial and competent; their mandate should enable them fully to investigate serious allegations of violations and to make public recommendations; commission members and potential witnesses must enjoy adequate and effective protection; the commission must receive adequate resources to carry out its mandate; and the Government should undertake to give serious consideration to its recommendations. We hope the commission will also reflect the desires and requests of the citizens of Sri Lanka, who were the primary victims of the conflict. Being responsive to their needs will be an important measure of the commission's success. In light of these general principles, we would welcome the Sri Lankan Government's commitment to give the Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation a mandate to probe violations of international standards during the final stages of the conflict and to identify those responsible and, we would expect, to make appropriate public recommendations based on its findings.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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